Saturday, November 22, 2008


this is a bit dated now, as we were in copenhagen a couple of weeks ago...

Svanholm is the Danish Twin Oaks, with a few notable differences. The community is 30 years old. They are 60 adults and 50 (!) kids living on a 1000 acre estate, about an hour NW of copenhagen. About a third of the members work outside the community. The rest work in one of the community run businesses (a crate making factory, large organic vegetable and dairy farm, and fruit/vegetable packing businesses, kindergarden, and a small organic shop), or in one of the service areas: car/bike maintenance, building maintenance, cooking, etc. For jobs that no-one wants to do, the community hires local X-members or folks who live in the area. Since the crate/pallet construction factory came with the estate, there are some local employees who pre-date the community! This is less awkward than it seems, since Svanholm is culturally and ideologically quite close to the Danish mainstream (certainly more so than TO).

The community makes decisions by consensus (contradicting those that say that consensus doesn't work in a large group,) and most decisions are decided in their monthly meeting. Right now, they are experimenting with incorporating a smaller committee to take on some of the smaller decisions on a more frequent basis. The family is the basic unit at Svanholm; the community was started by 2 families who put an ad in a newspaper; 80 people came to the first meeting! Most folks who move there come as a family. In Denmark, kids are not seen as a financial burden because of the state subsidies for families with children. The different cultural attitude towards kids is very palpable. There are lots of good kid spaces, including a large open area above the dining hall, complete with a playhouse and a set of giant legos. Socially, it is much less active than TO; families mostly go to their own spaces after dinner.

Svanholm recently shifted away from sharing all of their income equally, as they had done for many years. They changed to an 80%/20% system when they noticed that new people were averse to sharing 100% of their income and had stopped moving to the community. Now there's a complex system in members keep a portion of their income, though most still goes to the community for taxes, common expenses, food, etc. Those that work inside are paid wages on paper and still keep a portion . Members keep 20% of the first chunk of earnings, then 10% for a subsequent chunk, and there's a cap after that. This shift in their economic policy seems to have had the desired affect, as the community welcomed 5 new families this year. Over the years, Svanholm has been moving in a more individualistic direction socially and culturally, as well; many people have personal cars, there is less group-living, and more walls are being put up to divide spaces for the individual families. One notable difference between TO and Svanholm emerged in a short aside from our lovely tour guide, Pauline. She was talking about how the building group was very busy now because many of the families that move in want to have their own bathroom and kitchen. She said "we have a hard time saying no to each other." My experience at Twin Oaks is that people seem to have a hard time saying yes to each other. (sorry , couldn't resist that bit of recent x-member bitterness : ) )

Another big difference is in the length of membership and commitment to the community. 12 of the founding members still live at Svanholm, and many have lived there for over 15 years. When new members join, the community makes a decision to accept them after 3 months. After a year, the members make a commitment to the community. And if they want to leave, they must give a year's notice so that the community can budget for the change. There are also fewer younger members in their 20's, though many young interns come for several months in the spring, summer and fall.

Svanholm's public (and private) spaces are large, spacious, and aesthetically pleasing. There's lots of natural wood, large windows and good lighting. Almost all of the buildings existed when they got there (it was an estate with roots in the nobility), and are very old and beautiful. The dining room is large and spacious,

with a big kid's area upstairs. Everyone takes the weekends off and the relaxed feeling is palpable. On Saturday of our visit, a bunch of people came out to spend the day beautifying the dining hall. They'd gotten some material to hang as curtains in an attempt to help dampen the sound. About 25 people showed up, totally voluntarily and off the labor system. After a brief meeting about the day's plan (with lots of coffee and laughter), they all set to work ironing the curtains, dusting, clearing out clutter, and generally giving the dining room some love. Upstairs, a gaggle of kids worked on a talent show and performed it for the adults after lunch. The older kids baked some cakes for a mid-afternoon snack. The general feeling of the day was of one of cooperation and joy.

We were hosted by 2 members who had spent time in VA; Arne, his partner Hele and their 2 kids had spent 2 months at Twin Oaks in 1997. They had thoroughly enjoyed their visit and later hosted John and Marsha (sungergia) for a Svanholm visit. Pauline had lived at Innisfree for 2 years, and been to several Communities Conferences. Arne is very interested in fostering more cross-atlantic exchanges between the two communities, so come on by for a visit! They were wonderful hosts and very charming folk.

Friday, November 21, 2008

post meditation course berlin

as always, the 24 hours post-meditation course are very action-packed and exciting.

sky and i just sat a sati-patthana sutta course at the german goenka vipassana center. its an advanced course that goes over one of the main scriptures from the buddha. i really loved the center and the course; as always, i got alot out of it and also feel daunted by how much further there is to go.

we've gently landed in berlin, driving north through a huge snowstorm with some fellow meditators. the perfect ride to Kastanienallee 77, urban commune recommended by new friends from torri superiori in italy. its a former squat, community of artists and activists in three buildings that interconnect. the folks that squatted it back in '92 did a creative squatting action of dressing up at doctors and planting a heart in the center of the building. some how they managed to keep it from the cops and the landlords, and now basically own the buildings. each room has been very creatively renovated and they've kept alot of the original walls and doors for a very funky new/old feeling.

more to come........